June saw the DVD release of The Gambler, a remake of the classic 1974 film of the same name. Mark Wahlberg plays literature professor Jim Bennett, with an addiction to high-stakes gambling so crippling the loan sharks get involved. While the film makes for a gripping watch, it joins a long line of films that paint the world of casinos and gambling in a less-than-flattering light. The glitz and glamour of casino life in the James Bond films, while perhaps a little too flattering, can only make up for so much of the damage done by antihero/loan shark films of The Gambler’s ilk; here we’ll look into just what The Gambler gets wrong, and just what the reality of casino life nowadays really is.

The Gambler’s plot is driven by Jim Bennett’s playing-off of the criminal underworld’s most dangerous factions, by way of loaning money for high-stakes bets and sports gambling, in a bid to pay his debts and walk away. As the trope of the dishevelled, out-of-luck gambler trope permeates mafia and casino films, it’s worth noting that the casino environments of today and their expansions into other markets don’t often beget real life Jim Bennetts. Also, the existence of gambling underground at all, let alone of loan sharks and mob bosses, is greatly exaggerated by cinema. The trope is perfect for storylines with high stakes and high tension, but the true casino experience is a far more lax affair for all concerned – perhaps even boring!

Besides, with the massive increase in the popularity of online and mobile casinos in recent times, one is far more likely to turn to the internet instead of the nearest venue for a game of Texas Hold ‘Em. You can take chances however and whenever you please, without having to talk to another human in real life at all, let alone a scary one – like John Goodman. The choice of games available to the online player is also far wider than any real life casino could honestly offer, allowing for perhaps enough novelty not to be tempted by the trouble Jim Bennett gets himself into.

Even James Bond has fallen foul of the casino myth: Skyfall’s Macau casino is disproportionately riddled with organised crime; Casino Royale sees assassination attempts, defibrillation and crying blood – good luck finding those in real life!

What we’ve learned here is a valuable lesson on the hyperbole of the film industry. Where The Gambler succeeds in giving suspense to the actions of characters, it only does so through invention and perhaps a subtle fiction. But hey; it’s a film!

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.